Published May 31, 2010
“American artists are so embarrassed by American life,” I said. “So contemptuous of it.”
“It’s not as if they’re afraid,” she said. “They have to be superior to what they represent. They are embarrassed even that they do it so well.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s like a dream, American life. It frightens you. You feel you have to make fun of it, no matter how much you secretly love it. I mean, here is everything you want. You have to say it’s horrible.”
—Anne Rice, Belinda
The third anniversary of the passing of Boris Yeltsin slid by without much comment here in the United States. Quite a contrast to the hour of his death, when the New York Times tolled the bell for a man it decreed possessed “extraordinary bravery” as he “embod[ied] the last hope of his people,” when, like a veritable colossus, he “eliminated government censorship of the press, tolerated public criticism, and steered Russia toward a free-market economy.”
Poor New York Times. Poor New York Times readers. The piece contains so many errors as to make one weep, contemplating correcting them all. The Times, whatever its worth in the “first draft of history” derby, has a fairly sorry record of limping far behind the field in getting the big things right. As the June Smithsonian reminds us, in recalling that the Times fretted editorially in the days before black boxer Jack Johnson’s July 1910 demolition of his white opponent, Jim Jeffries: “if the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than physical equality with their white neighbors.”
For even as the Times three years ago was extolling Yeltsin as some sort of bibulous Moses to the Russian people, Perry Anderson, across the Great Water in the London Review of Books, was more precisely describing Yeltsin as a bumbling butcher, misapprehended here in the West because he served as “a pliable, if somewhat disreputable, utensil of Western policies,” whose acts, in truth, will ultimately lay in their graves more Russians than even Josef Stalin managed to plant.
Published May 30, 2010
Animal Matters , Wyrds
A hive of bees in May is worth a load of hay.
“I remember when I was a child being sent to visit one of our numerous elderly and eccentric aunts. She had a bee fetish; she kept vast quantities of them; the garden was overflowing with hundreds of hives humming like telegraph poles. One afternoon she put on an enormous veil and a pair of gloves, locked us all in the cottage for safety, and went out to try to get some honey out of one of the hives. Apparently she didn’t stupefy them properly, or whatever it is you do, and when she took the lid off, a sort of waterspout of bees poured out and settled on her. We were watching all this through the window. We didn’t know much about bees, so we thought this was the correct procedure, until we saw her flying round the garden making desperate attempts to evade the bees, getting her veil tangled up in the rose-bushes. Eventually she reached the cottage and flung herself at the door. We couldn’t open it because she had the key. We kept trying to impress this on her, but her screams of agony and the humming of the bees drowned our voices. It was, I believe, Leslie who had the brilliant idea of throwing a bucket of water over her from the bedroom window. Unfortunately in his enthusiasm he threw the bucket as well. To be drenched with cold water and then hit on the head with a large galvanized-iron bucket is irritating enough, but to have to fight off a mass of bees at the same time makes the whole thing extremely trying. When we eventually got her inside she was so swollen as to be almost unrecognizable.
“She recovered after a few weeks in hospital. It didn’t seem to put her off the bees though. Shortly afterwards a whole flock of them swarmed in the chimney, and in trying to smoke them out she set fire to the cottage. By the time the fire brigade arrived the place was a mere charred shell, surrounded by bees.”
—Gerald Durrell, My Family And Other Animals
May 28, 2010
Here I am again, speakin’ into this tape recorder, for the book that Karen‘s writin’ for me, so I can get vindicated by history.
They’re already after me on this book, the mockers, even though the damn thing ain’t even written yet. Just look at them pictures they printed in the Commie paper over in England!
That’s not gonna be the covers of my book! They’s lyin’! Committin’ libels! That’s what they call it when Commies lies in their newspapers. I called Karl, and told him to get to puttin’ them news boys in jail. He said we couldn’t do it, ’cause they was in England. I reminded him that when we was president we had no trouble puttin’ people from England, or anywhere else in the damn world, in jail—secret ones, too—but he said we couldn’t do that any more. Dammit.
He said not to worry about them deriders, because that’s all they is, while I was the decider. That made me feel a little better. Especially after I’d drunk me a few pretzels.
Published May 27, 2010
Asia , Destry , Into The Light
Sometimes the right sees more clearly the Obama administration than does its putative allies on the left.
Even as an increasing number of sky-is-falling lefties flock to the duckspeak that there is little substantive difference between the Obama people and the George II crew, the right is in a ferment over two recent statements, one by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the other by Vice President Joe Biden, that indicate clearly that, in contrast to the rogue lone gunman ethos of the George II years, Obama’s is indeed an in-ternationalist presidency, one that is deliberately, if quietly, decoupling from the pernicious fantasy of divinely-ordained American exceptionalism that has driven US foreign policy since “the two Williams”—McKinley and Hearst—inaugurated America as Empire.
The ancients were enamored with sage. So am I. The ancients believed that sage could confer immortality. What I believe: who knows? I eat the stuff, and I’m still knocking around.
“Why,” demanded one Latin commentator, “should a man die who grows sage in his garden?”
Among the English, it is believed that the plant’s immortalist properties are most pronounced in May:
He who would live for aye
Must eat Sage in the month of May.
We have a few May days left here. So get to nibbling.
Or maybe it’s okay to wait until next month. For over there in Provence, says Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, folks aver “[i]t should be picked on the dawn of Midsummer Day when the first ray of sunlight strikes the highest mountain.” Provencal proverb: “he who has sage in his garden needs no doctor.”